seejps-1-3

Coordinated by Gheorghe STOICA

 Romanian Politics in 2012: Intra-Cabinet Coexistence and Political Instability

Lavinia STAN

“St. Francis Xavier” University

 

Abstract: By all standards, 2012 was a very busy political year for Romania, a country that, during the span of several months changed four different governments, organized local and parliamentary elections, and saw its president being suspended and then reinstated as a result of a controversial popular referendum. This article uses the framework of intra-cabinet coexistence in an effort to provide a chronological overview of the most important political events of 2012. The focus is on the relationship between the elected president and the cabinet, which share overlapping responsibilities and competencies, but also on the involvement of the Constitutional Court in deciding the fate of key political actors.

Keywords: elections, semi-parliamentary systems, referendum, suspension of president, intra-cabinet relations, cohabitation.

 

1. INTRODUCTION

The year 2012 was by far the busiest for Romania, registering political developments leading to radical changes in the composition and activity of the government, its relationship with civil society, and the relative balance of forces between left-wing and right-wing parties. This article provides a chronological scorecard of the main political events that unfolded in 2012, with an eye on the intra-executive coexistence between the president and successive prime ministers, and the way different political events and actors are connected to each other.

 

2. SEMI-PRESIDENTIALISM AS INTRA-EXECUTIVE COEXISTENCE

  The Romanian semi-presidential “intra-executive coexistence” allows a directly elected president to coexist with an elected prime minister.[1] In the president-parliamentary systems found in Russia (since 1993) and Ukraine the directly elected president enjoys the constitutional prerogative to appoint and dismiss cabinet members, but in the Romanian premier-presidential system the president can nominate, not dismiss, the prime minister.[2] According to the Constitution, the president “shall designate a candidate to the office of Prime Minister and appoint the Government on the basis of the vote of confidence of Parliament” (Article 85).[3]

Intra-executive coexistence is prone to conflict, due to the rivalry between the two executive members who seek the cabinet’s compliance with their distinct political objectives. Such conflict can divide the executive by turning the president against a cabinet (and prime minister) supported by parliament or pit a united cabinet against parliament.[4] Conflict stems from differences in the personalities and ideological positions of the president and the prime minister, the novel character of this institutional design in Eastern Europe, the party system configuration and development, the impact of divergent electoral cycles, the variations in presidential and prime ministerial control over the cabinet, the constitutional ambiguity about the responsibilities assigned to the president and the prime minister, or a combination of these factors.[5]

The Romanian semi-presidentialism, which unclearly divides the responsibilities of the president and the prime minister, led to insignificant intra-executive conflict as long as presidential and parliamentary elections were organized concurrently, government legislators rejected no-confidence motions against the cabinet, and the presidents and the prime ministers represented the same party coalition and supported similar policy agendas. The first serious intra-executive conflict appeared in 2007, when Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu’s Liberals and the opposition Social Democrats (PSD) and Conservatives suspended Democrat Liberal (PDL) President Traian Băsescu. That conflict was rooted in personality differences between Tăriceanu and Băsescu, and new opportunities and incentives that presented themselves to the prime minister. These factors were also at work in 2012, being augmented by the ideological differences between the centre-right PDL president and the centre-left PSD prime minister and the divergent electoral cycles to which the president and the cabinet responded.

 

3. STREET PROTESTS IN JANUARY

By January 2012 there were marked differences in the way the PDL and the population interpreted the government’s track record. The cabinet insisted that it had sacrificed its popularity for the sake of helping Romania to avert Greece’s fate by launching in 2010 unpopular, yet needed, austerity measures that had cut the wages of public servants, reduced their benefits, and banned new hires in the public sector. The cabinet further praised its anticorruption program, which led to the investigation of many politicians, corrupt customs and police officers, and judges.

In contrast, many citizens felt that the cabinet staved off the effects of the global financial crisis by unfairly allowing them to shoulder the austerity program, while protecting the interests of powerful politicians and businessmen. Prime Minister Emil Boc’s claim that budget cuts were needed to reduce the deficit contrasted with the unnecessary projects funded by his government. The opposition blamed the cabinet for making 700,000 people lose their jobs and 100,000 firms close down, and noted that the anticorruption drive targeted mainly opposition politicians.[6] Boc’s popularity further decreased after the cabinet reduced the input of labour unions in collective bargaining; changed local government transfers; by-passed parliament by issuing emergency ordinances and assuming responsibility for laws; purged civil servants supporting other parties; and promoted Băsescu’s friends to top state positions.[7]

The popular protests were sparked by the unexpected resignation of Dr. Raed Arafat, an undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, at the pressure of President Băsescu. The resignation was followed by popular protests in support of Arafat, first in Târgu Mureș and then throughout the country. On January 13 protests reached Bucharest, forcing the cabinet to withdraw the bill and rehire Arafat. Street demonstrations continued despite the freezing cold, police brutality, and the disparaging comments of PDL leaders, who termed protesters as hooligans manipulated by the opposition. On January 23 Boc tried to pacify protesters by providing tax relief, and dismissing Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi for offending the protesters. These concessions were insufficient. The cabinet was unseated on February 6.

The protests had a significantly larger political impact than initially anticipated. The government’s reaction to the protests, which ranged from ignoring and lambasting them to violently cracking them down, proved that Boc and the PDL leaders did not consider open dialogue as a key to their political survival, as long as President Băsescu supported them by turning down all government formulas that excluded the PDL. Băsescu’s protection weakened democratic mechanisms in the PDL and insulated the party from the electorate.[8] The protesters’ refusal to listen to opposition leaders who sought to turn the social unrest to their advantage signalled their dissatisfaction with all the parties that had ruled the country since 1989. This dejection helped the Popular Party of Dan Diaconescu (PPDD) come third in the summer election after the Social Liberal Union (USL, which united the PSD, the Liberals and the Conservatives) and the PDL. The protests also showed that President Băsescu had become a liability for the PDL, which supported his presidential bid in 2004 and 2009. By 2012 Băsescu’s unceremonious, direct way of approaching people and topics was seen as an unnecessary meddling in areas of life where the president had no competencies. The protests suggested that Băsescu no longer had the popularity needed to successfully placate a claim for his suspension.

 

4. THE UNGUREANU CABINET

Boc’s decision to renounce the premiership, but not the PDL leadership, and Băsescu’s appointment of a non-PDL politician as prime minister weakened the PDL and the new cabinet. These decisions placed the PDL in the unenviable position of having to support a cabinet whose leader was answerable to Băsescu and not to the party, who had few friends among party members, and who was younger and less experienced than many PDL leaders that eyed the premiership. By emphasizing the need for leadership continuity, not for change, the PDL showed unwillingness to assume Boc’s mistakes in governance, communication strategy, and relations with civil society. The new Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, a former PNL member who served as head of the External Information Service (heir to the foreign espionage branch of the Securitate) in 2007-2012, had no party levers at his disposal. By presenting Ungureanu as the PDL candidate for the 2014 presidential elections without consulting the party, the president fuelled resentment from the PDL leaders and misled Ungureanu into thinking that Băsescu alone could guarantee his acceptance as PDL leader. His position as cabinet head was delicate, because his ministers were still nominated by the PDL and were more loyal to Boc than to him; hence he could rely on no other party to implement his program, and was largely a prisoner of the escalating demands of legislators. It soon became clear how precarious Ungureanu’s position was.

Ungureanu hoped that few would blame him for lacking the time to implement reforms and that his short mandate would boost his presidential credentials. But he miscalculated, and his short premiership damaged his chances to become Băsescu’s successor. Ungureanu yielded to the demands of PDL local leaders for preferential hand-outs that could boost their chances for re-election and engaged in questionable spending patterns. First, he disbursed 200 million USD of the Government’s Special Reserve Fund to mayors (of whom 95 percent were PDL members).[9] The allocation ignored local needs, disregarded the legal use of these funds (meant to redress natural calamities), and included no checks on the use of the money. Second, Ungureanu ran a spendthrift executive that in 78 days spent USD 400,000 for protocol alone.[10] Both scandals showed that Ungureanu was unable to reduce the waste of government funds by the ruling party, and make government expenditures transparent. They reinforced the idea that the PDL was short on money for projects of public interest and public servants’ wages, but generous with its clients.

Days after Ungureanu disbursed the reserve funds the opposition tabled a no-confidence motion adopted by Parliament on April 27, after several PDL legislators crossed the floor.[11] While other prime ministers faced on average a motion a year, Boc faced twice as many. A motion unseated Boc on October 13, 2009, and Ungureanu suffered the same fate on April 27, 2012. While in 2009 Boc easily formed another PDL cabinet after the motion passed, in 2012 the party leadership withdrew support from Ungureanu and nominated no other prime minister, instead permitting the opposition to nominate Ponta as prime minister. The PDL might have given up the right to form the cabinet in the hope of regaining popular support before elections. Polls credited the PDL with only 19 percent support rate, half the USL rate.[12]

 

5. THE FIRST PONTA CABINET

Ponta’s nomination inaugurated an uneasy coexistence between the centre-right president and the centre-left cabinet. The president has foreign policy and defence powers that overlap with the cabinet’s. When the president and the prime minister represent the same coalition, their attributions are divided by gentlemen’s agreements, but such an agreement was unworkable in 2012, given Băsescu’s desire to act as a president-player (presedinte-jucator), although he had the support of only a minority of legislators, and the USL’s insistence to speak on behalf of the people, though the president, not the legislators, was elected by a wider electorate.

The USL found it hard to identify worthy ministers. Questions regarding the integrity of its members were raised after the cabinet’s creation. In response, the cabinet underwent 12 changes, making it the least stable post-communist government. Ponta and the USL had no clear governmental agenda, but this oversight had little effect on their popularity. First, few voters expected Ponta to implement a serious program in the months leading to elections. Second, the cabinet addressed the major grievance of public servants and retired people, who formed its social base: partial restoration of the wages and benefits cut by the PDL. Third, the USL blamed President Băsescu for everything that went wrong in the country, though the president’s attributions were related to foreign policy and defence only. Given the strong anti-Băsescu feelings of many voters, this multipronged strategy allowed the USL to retain public confidence despite promoting politicians with dubious records to top state positions, lacking a concrete economic strategy, and engaging in controversial or unconstitutional political moves.

 

6. THE LOCAL ELECTIONS

The campaign centred on the personality of the candidates, who offered free food, drinks and entertainment in exchange of votes. Of the 10 million votes for mayors, the USL gathered 5.2 million, the PDL 1.5 million, the PPDD 0.72 million, and the UDMR 0.42 million. Similar results were registered for local/county councillors, and county council presidents. The USL won 64 percent of mayor positions, 52 percent of local/county councillors, and 88 percent of county presidents. It gained most mayor positions in major towns, including Bucharest.[13]

The USL watered the campaign well, given the ideological and policy differences among its partners. Constituted in 2011, the union brought together an inter-war ‘historical party’ (PNL) revived in 1989 and formations that harboured communist officials and secret agents who had persecuted the PNL during the communism. The PSD and the PNL were rivals until 2010, when they understood that only together could they muster sufficient electoral support to compel Băsescu to allow them to form the government, if scoring better than the PDL. In 2008 and 2009 Băsescu turned down cabinet proposals not coming from the PDL, in virtue of the presidential constitutional prerogative to designate the prime minister (Article 103).

The campaign was marked by the PDL’s inability to gauge the full extent of its free-fall. Instead of supporting candidates untainted by corruption, the PDL promoted corrupt politicians. Amateurism and improvisation characterized its campaign, which blamed its defeat on other parties and shunned honest self-introspection. Emil Boc became mayor of Cluj but this victory failed to restore his credibility within the PDL. On June 30, Vasile Blaga replaced Boc as party leader, but the party’s rebuilding was derailed by President Băsescu’s suspension.

The election’s unexpected winner was the PPDD of Dan Diaconescu, the obscure owner of Oglinda Television (OTV), Romania’s trashiest television station. A populist formation with a strong anti-establishment flavour and a political platform devoid of feasible policy proposals, the PPDD built its campaign on criticizing all other parties and accusing them of incompetence and hypocrisy, because their criticism of each other was hiding from public view the extensive cross-party networks of corruption and nepotism that united their members. Ironically, most PPDD candidates were former PNL, PSD and PDL leaders tainted by corruption allegations, whose political goals and practices resembled those of the parties they criticized.

 

7. PRESIDENT BASESCU’S SUSPENSION AND COMEBACK

It is uncertain when the USL decided to suspend the president. For Băsescu, the decision was taken at the time the Ponta cabinet was appointed, and was advocated by Conservative leader Dan Voiculescu and PNL leader Crin Antonescu. Whereas Antonescu was impatient to try his hand at playing the president, Voiculescu allegedly wanted revenge for the president’s return to Cotroceni in 2007, which followed Băsescu’s first suspension.[14] The 2012 suspension therefore had less to do with Basescu’s performance as president and PDL éminence grise and more with a personal vendetta waged by oligarchic politicians eager to turn attention away from their own incompetence and corruption. It allegedly amounted to a ‘coup d’état’, a ‘renunciation of democratic principles’, a ‘return to totalitarianism’, an ‘apocalypse’ perpetrated by ‘rhinoceros’ bent on turning Romania into a ‘prison camp’, or a sign of ‘political paranoia’.[15] According to Băsescu’s critics, the suspension was called for by the president’s divide et impera strategy, and failure to mediate between the government and the opposition, as the constitution required. Critics recalled his refusal to install governments not backed by the PDL, willingness to publicly announce the austerity measures in 2010, though presidential prerogatives do not extend to the economy, and meddling in the affairs of the judiciary by phoning prosecutors and asking about the fate of selected cases or by publicly threatening his rivals with being placed under investigation, threats that should have been in vain if the judiciary were really independent.[16]

Two events convinced the USL to launch the suspension procedure. First, on June 18 Nature identified Ponta’s doctoral thesis as the product of plagiarism.[17] Suspecting that the allegations originated in the pro-Băsescu camp, the president’s supporters launched a concerted campaign to discredit Ponta in the hope of boosting the PDL’s popularity as a result. Second, on June 20 Năstase was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption. An influential PSD leader who fostered Ponta’s political aspirations and supervised his controversial thesis, Năstase remains the highest-ranking politician ever convicted for corruption in Romania. Denounced as a political vendetta, his demise was a direct blow to the legitimacy of Ponta’s party.

By July 1 the USL had made up its mind – Băsescu had to leave before the end of his mandate, not because he “committed grave acts infringing on constitutional provisions” (Article 95 of the Constitution), but because he commanded enough support within the judiciary, civil society, and the international community to hamper the USL’s domination of the cabinet. Once that decision was made, the USL replaced the ombudsman and the PDL parliament speakers with Social Liberals not inclined to block the suspension. By replacing the PDL Senate speaker, Antonescu became interim president after Băsescu’s suspension. The USL transferred the State Gazette from parliament to cabinet, to control the time when decisions were published. The cabinet amended the referendum law to remove the requirement that referenda are valid only if turnout amounts to a majority of all registered voters, and restricted the role of the Constitutional Court to examine governmental decisions.[18]

On July 5, the USL majority introduced in parliament a proposal for the suspension of President Băsescu. The document claimed that since Băsescu’s re-election in 2009, the Romanian democracy had been eroded by the “discretionary and unconstitutional concentration of powers in the hands of one person, the president”, who sponsored “legislative chaos”, infringed on the rule of law, decreased living standards, prompted the bankruptcy of small businesses, and “dissolved the middle class.”[19] Băsescu was blamed for assuming the powers of the prime minister, in defiance of the constitution, when announcing the austerity measures in 2010. The USL rejected a PDL plea for a legislative commission to investigate the validity of the accusations, as was the case with Băsescu’s first suspension in 2007, but agreed to send the suspension proposal to the Constitutional Court. On July 6, in the absence of a decision regarding the constitutionality of the suspension, parliament voted against Băsescu and announced that a popular referendum will decide whether the president could return. The referendum date was set for July 29. Antonescu became the interim president.

Afterwards, the Constitutional Court faced renewed attacks by the USL and retained its prerogatives only after the vigorous intervention of the EU and the Venice Commission. The Court portrayed itself as the last bastion of democracy in Romania, but its decisions on the suspension followed neither the spirit nor the letter of the law. Differences of opinion among judges prevented the Court from blocking the suspension. On the one hand, the Court upheld the suspension, although the constitutional requirement was unmet because the USL failed to prove that Băsescu had committed any “grave acts.” At the government’s request, the Court allowed voting centres to be opened on the referendum day longer than in 2007. On the other hand, the Court insisted that a simple majority turnout was needed to validate the referendum, though this requirement restricted the citizens’ political input. The higher validation bar increased Băsescu’s chance to regain his office if many Romanians who were on holiday or who were working abroad did not vote.[20]

In the referendum campaign the USL asked the Romanians to vote against ‘the dictator’ under whose rule they could not live well because he endorsed PDL’s austerity measures. The president was denounced for mocking the rule of law and being interested only in retaining power at all costs.[21] In turn, Băsescu labelled Ponta and Antonescu ‘monkeys’ and ‘impeachers’ (suspendaci) who protected corrupt politicians deserving to go to jail (puscariabili), disregarded the national interest, and were ridiculed internationally as pitiful plagiarists. He dismissed the no-confidence motion as ‘a defect of democracy’ and the pro-suspension parliamentary vote as a coup d’état, though neither were unconstitutional, and alleged that the Ponta cabinet was taking orders from Russia, which sought to turn Romania into an undemocratic state.[22]

Blaga and representatives of minor PDL-sponsored parties or civic organizations, but none of the controversial PDL ex-ministers, accompanied Băsescu in his referendum campaign. The campaign brought Băsescu together with the PDL to the benefit of the former, not of the latter. Having the PDL at his side allowed Băsescu to show he still retained the support of a party, battered as it was, provided him with moral and logistical campaign support, and mounted the boycott that brought him back to the presidency. On its part, by helping Băsescu, the PDL lost time, since it could not reconfigure itself before the elections, and credibility, since the new leader Blaga was as strongly tied to the unpopular president as his predecessor, Boc. Opinion polls pointed to Băsescu’s defeat, so his strategy changed mid-course. Claiming that the USL planned to rig the vote, Băsescu declared that the only way to prevent fraud was for his supporters to boycott the vote. If designed to minimise fraud, the strategy was logically untenable, since fewer votes can be rigged as effectively as many votes. If designed to permit his return to Cotroceni, the strategy placed Băsescu in a corner, since it weakened his legitimacy by skewing the vote against him. His fraud allegations were never proven, but the boycott was a success.

The July 29 referendum had a turnout of 46.2 percent of the registered voters. Some 7.4 million Romanians (87.52 percent of referendum participants) voted against Băsescu, and 0.9 million (11.15 percent) for him.[23] The turnout fell short of the simple majority requirement so the referendum was invalid, but the Constitutional Court had to declare it as such for Băsescu to return. As the turnout was close to the required minimum, the results were overwhelmingly against Băsescu, and the president undermined the referendum by calling for the boycott, the USL contested the results, claiming that the turnout was erroneously computed, being based on the 2002 census, not on the 2011 count, which showed a smaller total population. A smaller population meant that the referendum participants accounted for a higher percentage of registered voters, possibly a majority. The Constitutional Court was called to mediate the conflict between the cabinet and the president, and between the USL and the PDL. What followed was a series of blunders.

The Court dismissed the government’s call for recalculating the voters’ turnout on the basis of the new census, because it came after the vote took place, the Electoral Bureau already accepted the initial voter registration lists, and the census results were not yet official. It further asked the USL Minister of Interior to submit by August 31 the registration lists. The request blocked Băsescu’s return, and compelled the cabinet to come up with registration lists documenting a higher voter turnout. In the process, the Ministers of the Interior and Administration, Ioan Rus and Victor Paul Dobre, resigned following pressure from the USL to modify the lists.[24]

On August 21, the Court invalidated the referendum, dismissing the request to change the turnout computation after the referendum vote took place. The next day, Băsescu returned to the presidency, but had little to celebrate. First, the referendum gathered more votes against him than what he won in his support in 2004 and 2009, and thus dramatically eroded his popularity. Second, the vote gave the USL the upper hand by bestowing legitimacy to its position. Before the referendum, only Băsescu derived legitimacy directly from the popular vote, since the USL parliamentary majority and cabinet rested on defections of government legislators to the opposition or the no-confidence motion. Afterwards, the cabinet treated the anti-Băsescu vote as a pro-USL vote, and felt entitled to speak on behalf of the “people”, understood as the electoral segments inimical to the president. Third, the pro-USL and anti-Băsescu voters felt cheated by the boycott that invalidated the popular vote and allowed Băsescu’s return on a technicality. These voters could take no revenge on Băsescu, since no presidential elections were organized in 2012 and Băsescu could seek no re-election after having served two mandates. Given its ties to him, the PDL paid the bill for the popular dissatisfaction in the December elections. Last, Băsescu’s return prolonged his cohabitation with a cabinet ready to sacrifice the rule of law to its short-term goals.

International actors took important steps to curtail the USL’s penchant for undermining the rule of law. On July 11, in a letter to Ponta, the EU officials raised eleven demands that the USL cabinet had to fulfil, including recognizing the suspension referendum as valid only if turnout reached a simple majority of all registered voters. Then the European Commission doubted the strength of Romania’s rule of law in its eleventh regular report.[25] After Băsescu’s return, on September 17, Ponta was again summoned to Brussels to discuss his cohabitation with the president. In October the European Popular Party congress met in Bucharest and bestowed credibility on the PDL, all the more so since in August the European Socialists, which include the PSD, decided not to meet in Bucharest due to the intense political infighting that occurred in Romania at the time. Finally, a Venice Commission analysis of Băsescu’s suspension, conducted at the request of the Romanian Constitutional Court, labelled it as “very problematic.”[26]

 

8. THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

Parties envisaged the formation of electoral blocs well before the start of the campaign. In 2011 the PDL set out to create the Right Romania Alliance (ARD). Because of Băsescu’s suspension, it was only in September 2012 that the ARD registered. It united the PDL and two tiny out-of-parliament parties: the National Christian-Democrat Peasant Party (PNTCD), led by Aurelian Pavelescu, and the Civic Force Party (PFC), led by Ungureanu. The unregistered New Republic Party joined in, and its leader, theologian Mihail Neamțu, became an ARD co-president, together with Blaga, Ungureanu, and Pavelescu.

The Alliance soon ran into problems. It brought few votes to the PDL, a fact calling into question the entire rebranding effort.[27] Pavelescu’s leadership of the PNTCD was contested. The all-male Alliance leadership placed the leader of ARD’s driving force (Blaga of the PDL) on an equal footing with the leaders of parties with negligible electoral following. Neamțu’s decision to recite a poem of Radu Gyr, a leader of the inter-war fascist Iron Guard, at the official launch of the ARD candidates forced other Alliance leaders to take distance from him, and the Centre for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism and civil society representatives to denounce Neamțu and question his commitment to liberal democratic values.[28] As Ungureanu, Neamțu and Blaga openly supported Băsescu’s referendum campaign, the ARD became tied to the unpopular president. Since the ARD was created just before the elections and had little time to advertise itself, the new political label and its relation to the PDL was confusing to many centre-right voters.

To gain ascendancy over the USL, the ARD appointed an Ethics Commission to vet the integrity of its candidates. But the vetting failed to improve the ARD candidate offering, because the criteria were worded so as to affect few individuals, and 23 of the 36 candidates rejected by the Commission were reinstated through a ‘political decision’ of the ARD leaders. As no other party introduced integrity criteria, many candidates’ track records made them unsuitable to represent the voters.[29] By November 5, the non-governmental Alliance for a Clean Romania identified 664 candidates who failed to fulfil the integrity requirements.[30]

Eight other formations ran for the upcoming elections. In the Romanian mixed-member proportional representation system, candidates who won an absolute majority of votes in a college gained the seat for that college, but colleges producing no majority winners had seats allocated by the d’Hondt method. The elections were held in 41 counties, Bucharest, and the diaspora. Votes for formations that did not reach the 5 percent threshold were redistributed among the winning parties. Proportional representation enlarged the Chamber of Deputies from 334 to 412 seats, and the Senate from 137 to 176. With its 588 members, the new Parliament is the largest since 1989. Through vote redistribution even candidates placed second or third in a college won seats.

All parties made unrealistic promises backed by no sound financial analyses. The ARD promised to reduce income and profit tax to 12 percent to encourage more Romanians to report their economic activities; keep the value-added tax unchanged at 24 percent; raise the minimum wage; and reduce the unemployment contribution by 5 percent. The USL pledged to introduce a progressive income tax structure; leave the profit tax unchanged at 16 percent; raise minimum wage; and decrease the value-added tax to 19 percent. All these benefits were to start in 2016. These pledges were unrealistic and the decreasing tax collection was unfeasible, since Romania had to reduce its deficit, repay loans of 7 billion Euros in 2013 with no access to EU funds, and increase wages for public servants as promised by the Ponta cabinet. The ARD and the USL also failed to address the core requests of business groups that asked for financial stability, more transparent procedures for the firms’ registration, the elimination of red tape, and an end to political interference in public tenders. The electoral platforms of other parties were even less realistic.[31]

The PPDD promised each citizen hand-outs of 20,000 Euros, free medicine, and child support. It pledged wage and pension increases for all public servants, lustration, lower utility costs, free tractors to each village, the confiscation of unjustified wealth, a citizens’ opinion tribunal to judge politicians for their incompetence, 20,000 apartments rented for 25 Euros per month to young people, jobs for all university graduates, the annulment of parliamentary immunity, Romania’s reunification with its former territory Bessarabia, and a unicameral legislature of 300 members.[32] The UDMR promoted enhanced administrative autonomy in Harghita and Covasna, the protection of minority rights, and cultural self-determination.

As in 2008, top politicians ran in safe colleges, where their parties were historically strong, and avoided direct confrontation with rivals of comparable calibre. This meant that some candidates ran in colleges with which they had no previous relation. In most districts the winning candidate was known even before election results were officially announced. Candidates reached out to voters and spent money on advertisement only in those colleges where the race was tight and an active campaign was likely to alter the electoral outcome. The press denounced the campaign as the weakest since 1989, and criticized the USL and the ARD for informally helping each other to win parliamentary representation.

The elections consolidated the USL and PPDD gain and the ARD loss registered in the summer elections, and rooted in the popular vote the alternation in power between the PDL and the USL operated by the no-confidence motion. USL won 66.2 and 69.3 percent of deputy and senator seats, respectively, followed by the ARD (13.6 and 13.7 percent), the PPDD (11.4 and 11.9 percent), and the UDMR (4.4 and 5.1 percent). The USL won the largest number of seats ever obtained by a formation after 1989. The ARD scored marginally better than the PPDD.

The question is why did the USL capture a clear majority of the vote after months of relentless criticism mounted by international actors, the PDL, and the local press? President Băsescu’s last-minute intervention might serve as an explanation. His threat to reject the USL candidate for premiership even if the bloc won a majority of the vote may have prompted more pro-USL electors to cast a vote and increased the USL’s support rate.

On December 21, President Băsescu appointed Ponta as prime minister of a new 28-member USL cabinet supported by the second largest post-communist parliamentary majority (second to the PDL-PSD majority that was forged after the 2008 elections). In contrast, the opposition controls a bare 30 percent of seats, and is deeply divided, as the ARD and the UDMR have little in common with the anti-establishment PPDD.

 

9. CONCLUSION

The year 2012 showed the instability of the democratic framework established in 1989-2007 and consolidated by the EU accession in 2007, polarized the party system to an unprecedented degree, pitted the branches of government against each other, and changed the balance of forces among parties. The cutthroat battles between the PDL and the USL, and between the supporters and enemies of President Băsescu, were waged by unscrupulously using (often abusing) public resources, the vast machinery of the government, the confidence of the electorate, and the country’s international image. The short term winners were the USL, which secured a solid parliamentary majority and appointed the cabinet, and President Băsescu, who retained his position in spite of the popular vote and the blind enmity of the USL.

All three government branches registered a credibility, legitimacy and popularity loss. When it comes to the executive, Băsescu’s propensity to assume executive prerogatives was bound to sour relations with a cabinet no longer representing his PDL. His suggestion of unconstitutionally placing his personal whim above the popular vote could hardly bridge his separation from the ruling USL or ingratiate him with the electorate.[33] Rather it convinced many politicians, not all of them anti-Băsescu, to revisit the Romanian semi-presidential system, the presidential prerogatives, and the division of powers within the executive. For the first time, the parliamentary system seemed a viable alternative. The cabinet, in turn, remained tainted by grave allegations of corruption, plagiarism and dishonesty plaguing its members. When it comes to the legislative, the enlarged Parliament will have difficulty in combating the distrust with which polls have traditionally credited the post-communist Romanian legislative. Even its proponents now believe that the mixed-member proportional representation system was a mistake in need of urgent redress. Compared to its predecessors, the new legislative is neither more representative, responsible and accountable to the electorate, nor less corrupt, vain and office-seeking. When it comes to the judiciary, the wavering commitment to the spirit and letter of the law of the Constitutional Court has shown its subservience to and lack of independence from executive and legislative actors. Nevertheless, 2012 was also the year when the courts broke the unwritten code of silence to convict a high-ranking politician like Năstase for corruption, and magistrates denounced the unwanted interference of the Minister of Justice, a political figure, in the election of their leaders. Undoubtedly, it was the ordinary citizens who bore the brunt of the 2012 political infighting, whose savings and wages decreased when the national currency was weakened by the investors’ mistrust.


Bibliography

20 de puncte ale Partidului Poporului, n.d., http://www.partidul.poporului.ro/content/20-de-puncte-ale-partidului-poporului (accessed January 23, 2013).

Alegeri locale 2012. Situația voturilor valabil exprimate pe partide, Biroul Electoral Central, București, 2012.

Alianta pentru o Românie Curată, Verifica integritatea candidatului tau (2012), http://verificaintegritatea.romaniacurata.ro (accessed January 17, 2013).

ALIGICA, Dragoş, “Legitimitatea regimului statal oligarhic: tema cheie a momentului”, 22 (July 10-19, 2012).

ANGHEL, Iulian, “Programele de guvernare ale USL şi ARD faţă în faţă - cine aruncă mai tare cu promisiuni?”, Ziarul Financiar (November 12, 2012).

ASTEFANESEI, A., S. GHICA, “Curtea Constituțională, blocată prin ‘abuz de putere’”, Adevarul (July 4, 2012).

BARAGAN, Daniela, “Over RON 1 million spent by Ungureanu government on protocol”, Nine O’Clock (September 18, 2012).

“Băsescu: Antonescu e ‘paiaţă’, iar Ponta ‘maimuţă’”, România Libera (July 20, 2012).

BAYLIS, Thomas, “Presidents versus Prime Ministers: Shaping the Executive Authority in Eastern Europe”, World Politics, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1996, pp. 297–323.

Biroul Electoral Central, Rezultatele parțiale ale referendumului național din 29 iulie 2012 pentru demiterea Președintelui României (July 30, 2012).

CHIRU, Mihail, Sergiu GHERGHINA, “Keeping the Doors Close: Leadership Selection in Post-Communist Romania”, East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2011, pp. 510-537.

CIOBANU, Laura, Andreea UDREA and Mircea MARIAN, “2012, un an politic cât patru. Care au fost cele mai importante evenimente ale anului”, Evenimentul Zilei (December 31, 2012).

Constitution of Romania (2003), http://www.cdep.ro/pls/dic/ site.page?den =act 2_2& par 1=3# t3c2s0a85 (accessed May 9, 2013).

“CSOP poll: Ungureanu wins points in voter confidence index”, Nine O’Clock (April 22, 2012).

ELGIE, Robert, “The Classification of Democratic Regime Types”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 33, No. 2, 1998, pp. 219–233.

European Commission, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (July 18, 2012), http://ec.europa.eu/cvm/docs/com_2012_410_en.pdf (accessed January 19, 2013).

European Commission for Democracy through Law, Opinion on the Compatibility with Constitutional Principles and the Rule of Law of Actions Taken by the Government and the Parliament of Romania in Respect of Other State Institutions and on the Government Emergency Ordinance on Amendment to the Law 47/1992 Regarding the Organization and Functioning of the Constitutional Court and on the Government Emergency Ordinance on Amending and Completing the Law 3/2000 Regarding the Organization of a Referendum, December 14-15, 2012, http://194.88.148.177/b6/ad/fd/78/efe93_default_581527080653.pdf?c=1f1618b1bb7d030dd7752293ed8b4507 (accessed May 9, 2013).

“First opinion poll after elections – Băsescu is responsible for what went wrong in 2012”, Nine O’Clock (January 15, 2013).

“Hotărare 255 din 3 aprilie 2012 privind alocarea unei sume din Fondul de rezervă bugetară la dispoziţia Guvernului, prevăzut în bugetul de stat pe anul 2012, pentru unele unităţi administrativ-teritoriale”, Monitorul Oficial al României (April 6, 2012).

Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Propunerile de candidați ale partidelor pentru viitorul Parlament: actuali parlamentari migrați, cercetați penal, chiulangii sau rude (November 2012), http://www.ipp.ro/pagini/propunerile-de-candida355i-ale-partid.php (accessed November 17, 2012).

“Ion Predescu (CCR): Erată publicată ulterior în Monitorul Oficial, o decizie politică”, Ziare.com (August 9, 2012).

LECA, Iulian, “Vinovații pentru dezastrul ARD-PDL la alegeri”, Stiri.com (November 16, 2012).

MIHU, L., “Interviu cu Traian Băsescu: USL pregăteşte şi a treia suspendare”, România Libera (July 24, 2012).

Moțiune de cenzura. 11 împotriva României!(October 6, 2009), http://www.cdep.ro/motiuni/2009/1369.pdf (accessed January 17, 2013).

Moțiune de cenzura. Opriti Guvernul șantajabil!(April 18, 2012), http://www.cdep.ro/motiuni/2012/1468.pdf (accessed January 11, 2013).

NEAMTU, Mihail, Zeitgeist: tipare culturale și conflicte ideologice, Curtea Veche, București, 2010.

PEPINE, Horatiu, “Curtea Constituţională a validat procedura de suspendare”, Deutsche Welle (July 10, 2012).

PROTSYK, Oleh, “Intra-Executive Competition between President and Prime Minister: Patterns of Institutional Conflict and Cooperation under Semi-Presidentialism”, Political Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2006, pp. 219-244.

ROPER, Steve, “Are All Semipresidential Regimes the Same? A Comparison of Premier-Presidential Regimes”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2002, pp. 253–276.

ROȘCA STĂNESCU, Sorin, “Pentru sau contra ‘dictatorului Băsescu’”, Jurnalul național (July 27, 2012).

SCHIERMEIER, Quirin, “Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism”, Nature (June 18, 2012).

“Ședința comună a Camerei Deputaţilor şi Senatului din 5 iulie 2012” (July 5, 2012), http://www.cdep.ro/pls/steno/steno.stenograma?ids=7143&idm=3&idl=1 (accessed January 18, 2013).

SHUGART, Matthew, “The Electoral Cycle and Institutional Sources of Divided Presidential Government”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, 1995, pp. 327–343.

SHUGART, Matthew and John M. CAREY, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.

STAN, Lavinia and Răzvan ZAHARIA, “Romania”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 50, No. 7, 2011, pp. 1105-1114.

ȘTEFAN, Laura and Sorin IONITA, “Romania”, in Nation in Transit 2012. Democratization from Central Europe to Eurasia, ed. Sylvana HABDANK-KOLACZKOWSKA, Katherin MACHALEK and Christopher WALKER, Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 2012, pp. 431-450.

TĂNASE, Stelian, Scrisoare catre Uniunea Europeana, Bruxelles (July 23, 2012), http://www.stelian-tanase.ro/la-zi/scrisoare-catre-uniunea-europeana-bruxelles/ (accessed January 18, 2013).

TARAS, Raymond (ed.), Post-Communist Presidents, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.




[1] Oleh PROTSYK, “Intra-Executive Competition between President and Prime Minister: Patterns of Institutional Conflict and Cooperation under Semi-Presidentialism”, Political Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2006, pp. 219-244.

[2] Matthew SHUGART and John M. CAREY, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992; and Steve ROPER, “Are All Semipresidential Regimes the Same? A Comparison of Premier-Presidential Regimes”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2002, pp. 253–276.

[3] Constitution of Romania (2003), http://www.cdep.ro/pls/dic/site.page?den=act2_2&par1=3#t3c2s0a85 (accessed May 9, 2013).

[4] Oleh PROTSYK, Intra-Executive Competition between President and Prime Minister… cit., pp. 221-222.

[5] Raymond TARAS (ed.), Post-Communist Presidents, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997; Robert ELGIE, “The Classification of Democratic Regime Types”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 33, No. 2, 1998, pp. 219–233; Matthew SHUGART, “The Electoral Cycle and Institutional Sources of Divided Presidential Government”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 2, 1995, pp. 327–343; and Thomas BAYLIS, “Presidents versus Prime Ministers: Shaping the Executive Authority in Eastern Europe”, World Politics, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1996, pp. 297–323.

[6] Motiune de cenzura. 11 impotriva Romaniei! (October 6, 2009), http://www.cdep.ro/motiuni/2009/1369.pdf (accessed January 17, 2013).

[7] Lavinia STAN and Răzvan ZAHARIA, “Romania”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 50, No. 7, 2011, pp. 1105-1114, and Laura STEFAN and Sorin IONITA, “Romania”, in Nation in Transit 2012. Democratization from Central Europe to Eurasia, ed. Sylvana HABDANK-KOLACZKOWSKA, Katherin MACHALEK and Christopher WALKER, Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 2012, pp. 431-450.

[8] Mihail CHIRU and Sergiu GHERGHINA, “Keeping the Doors Close: Leadership Selection in Post-Communist Romania”, East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2011, pp. 510-537.

[9] “Hotărare 255 din 3 aprilie 2012 privind alocarea unei sume din Fondul de rezervă bugetară la dispoziţia Guvernului, prevăzut în bugetul de stat pe anul 2012, pentru unele unităţi administrativ-teritoriale”, Monitorul Oficial al României (April 6, 2012).

[10] Daniela BARAGAN, “Over RON 1 million spent by Ungureanu government on protocol”, Nine O’Clock (September 18, 2012).

[11]Moţiune de cenzură. Opriţi Guvernul şantajabil!(April 18, 2012), http://www.cdep.ro/motiuni/2012/1468.pdf (accessed January 11, 2013).

[12] “CSOP poll: Ungureanu wins points in voter confidence index”, Nine O’Clock (April 22, 2012).

[13] Alegeri locale 2012. Situația voturilor valabil exprimate pe partide, Biroul Electoral Central, Bucharest, 2012.

[14] Lucian MIHU, “Interviu cu Traian Băsescu: USL pregăteşte şi a treia suspendare”, România Liberă (July 24, 2012).

[15] See, among others, Dragoş ALIGICA, “Legitimitatea regimului statal oligarhic: tema cheie a momentului”, 22 (July 10-19, 2012).

[16] Letter of 100 Romanian intellectuals addressed to the EU leaders. Stelian TĂNASE, Scrisoare către Uniunea Europeană, Bruxelles (July 23, 2012), http://www.stelian-tanase.ro/la-zi/scrisoare-catre-uniunea-europeana-bruxelles/ (accessed January 18, 2013); and Laura CIOBANU, Andreea UDREA and Mircea MARIAN, “2012, un an politic cât patru. Care au fost cele mai importante evenimente ale anului”, Evenimentul Zilei (December 31, 2012).

[17] Quirin SCHIERMEIER, “Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism”, Nature (June 18, 2012).

[18] A. ASTEFANESEI and S. GHICA, “Curtea Constituţională, blocată prin ‘abuz de putere’”, Adevarul (July 4, 2012).

[19] “Şedina comună a Camerei Deputaţilor şi Senatului din 5 iulie 2012” (July 5, 2012), http://www.cdep.ro/pls/steno/steno.stenograma?ids=7143&idm=3&idl=1 (accessed January 18, 2013).

[20] See Horațiu PEPINE, “Curtea Constituţională a validat procedura de suspendare”, Deutsche Welle (July 10, 2012).

[21] Among others, Sorin ROŞCA STĂNESCU, “Pentru sau contra ‘dictatorului Băsescu’”, Jurnalul național (July 27, 2012).

[22] “Băsescu: Antonescu e ‘paiaţă’, iar Ponta ‘maimuţă’”, Romania Liberă (July 20, 2012).

[23] Biroul Electoral Central, Rezultatele parțiale ale referendumului național din 29 iulie 2012 pentru demiterea Președintelui României (July 30, 2012).

[24] “Ion Predescu (CCR): Erata publicată ulterior în Monitorul Oficial, o decizie politică”, Ziare.com (August 9, 2012).

[25] European Commission, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (July 18, 2012), http://ec.europa.eu/cvm/docs/com_2012_410_en.pdf (accessed January 19, 2013).

[26] European Commission for Democracy through Law, Opinion on the Compatibility with Constitutional Principles and the Rule of Law of Actions Taken by the Government and the Parliament of Romania in Respect of Other State Institutions and on the Government Emergency Ordinance on Amendment to the Law 47/1992 Regarding the Organization and Functioning of the Constitutional Court and on the Government Emergency Ordinance on Amending and Completing the Law 3/2000 Regarding the Organization of a Referendum, December 14-15, 2012, http://194.88.148.177/b6/ad/fd/78/efe93_default_581527080653.pdf?c=1f1618b1bb7d030dd7752293ed8b4507 (accessed May 9, 2013).

[27] Iulian LECA, “Vinovații pentru dezastrul ARD-PDL la alegeri”, Ştiri.com (November 16, 2012).

[28] Mihail NEAMŢU, Zeitgeist: tipare culturale şi conflicte ideologice, Curtea Veche, București, 2010, pp. 120-126.

[29] Institutul pentru Politici Publice, Propunerile de candidaţi ale partidelor pentru viitorul Parlament: actuali parlamentari migraţi, cercetaţi penal, chiulangii sau rude (November 2012), http://www.ipp.ro/pagini/propunerile-de-candida355i-ale-partid.php (accessed November 17, 2012).

[30] Alianța pentru o Românie Curată, Verifică integritatea candidatului tău (2012), http://verificaintegritatea.romaniacurata.ro (accessed January 17, 2013).

[31] Iulian ANGHEL, “Programele de guvernare ale USL şi ARD faţă în faţă - cine aruncă mai tare cu promisiuni?”, Ziarul Financiar (November 12, 2012).

[32] 20 de puncte ale Partidului Poporului, n.d., http://www.partidul.poporului.ro/content/20-de-puncte-ale-partidului-poporului (accessed January 23, 2013).

[33] One out of two respondents blamed Băsescu for the 2012 events. “First opinion poll after elections – Băsescu is responsible for what went wrong in 2012”, Nine O’Clock (January 15, 2013).